Bloomberg wants to prohibit city stores from displaying cigarettes

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images) (Credit: (Getty Images))

After being dealt a setback in his bid to ban big sodas, the mayor is going after an old foe: cigarettes.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is introducing a bill Wednesday that would bar stores from displaying cigarettes on their shelves, particularly to keep them out of sight of youngsters.

"We know 'out of sight' doesn't always mean 'out of mind' but in many cases it can," he said.

The "Tobacco Product Display Restriction" would force store owners to keep cigarettes out of view and place them in cabinets, drawers or behind a curtain. Stores that only sell cigarettes and cigars would be exempt and businesses could have signage that tell consumers they sell cigarettes.

If it's passed by the City Council, New York would be the first city in the U.S. to hide packs from customers. Canada, however, already has a similar law in effect.

Bloomberg and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, who announced the legislation Monday, said even though smoking among NYC public high school students is down by 10% since 2001, there were 19,000 smokers younger than 18 in 2011.

Keeping packs off store shelves would cut down that figure more, according to the mayor, who has already banned smoking in parks, beaches and restaurants.

Store owners weren't pleased with the idea.

Emon Hossain, a manager of the Rainbow Convenience Store in midtown, said many of his customers buy goods simply because they see them.

He said the mayor needs to trust store owners and focus on other ways to stop teens from smoking.

"We ask them for ID and don't sell to anyone under 18," he said.

A second bill, the "Sensible Tobacco Enforcement," would create tougher penalties for stores that violate city and state tobacco tax laws and for those who sell packs for less than $10.50 after taxes. The bill would also prohibit retailers from accepting coupons or discounts on cigarettes and cigars.

"We think it will be effective because high prices tend to discourage young people from smoking," Bloomberg said.

Some young smokers said that for them, money is not an issue.

"I wake up in the morning cranky, and think, 'Damn! I need a cigarette!'" said student Ching Cash, 20.

The bills have support from many council members, but it's unclear if they will be passed.

Cigarette giant Philip Morris International said it opposed the bills because the federal government already imposes many regulations that limit sales. "To the extent that this proposed law would ban the display of products to adult tobacco consumers, we believe it goes too far," a spokesman for the company said.

Audrey Silk, the founder of smokers' rights group NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH), said both proposals hurt consumer rights.

"I'm sorry, tobacco is legal and it's staying. To use censorship of this form is not free will in this country," she said.

Silk noted that like the mayor's failed plan to ban large sugary sodas, the smoking measures are targeting one unhealthy vice.

"Kids don't go into a store and look at a beer and say, 'Hey, let's get a beer.' Just enforce the law and don't sell it to them," she said.

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By the numbers

21.5%
of NYC adults, or 1,305,000 people, were smokers in 2002

14.8%
of NYC adults, or 930,000 people, were smokers in 2011

20.9%
of NYC adults, or 1,281,000 people, were former smokers in 2011

8.5%
Youth smoking rate since 2007

Source: Department of Health

***

Mike's 11 years of health plans


2002
At the end of his first year in office, Bloomberg signs into law a ban on smoking in almost all bars and restaurants in the city. The ban went into effect in 2003, and is still considered one of the toughest nationwide.

2006
Bloomberg pushes for a ban on using artificial trans-fats in foods. The measure is passed by the Board of Heath and by 2008, all restaurants and stores completely removed artificial trans-fats from food, though products with them could be served in the manufacturer's packaging.

Health officials approve a measure to post calorie counts for products in fast-food restaurants. A judge struck down the measure, but a slightly different law was passed in 2007, requiring chain restaurants with 15 or more stores to display calorie information. The counts have been displayed since the law went into effect in 2008.

2008
As part of the National Salt Reduction Initiative, Bloomberg pushes for a 25% salt reduction in packaged and restaurant foods over five years. Bloomberg announced 21 companies, including Subway and Nabisco, reduced salt in their products voluntarily.

2009
Bloomberg's then-health Commissioner Thomas Frieden announces plans to post food-inspection letter grades on all restaurants in July 2010. The future of the grade postings is unclear, though they are stilled used today.

2011
The City Council bans smoking in city parks and other public spaces. While a similar ban was suspended for state parks the following year, Bloomberg defends the regulation and it still remains in effect.

2012
Bloomberg proposes a ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 oz. A judge invalidated the ban this month, just one day before it was to go into effect. The city is currently appealing the ruling.

2013
In his final State of the City address, Bloomberg proposed a ban on Styrofoam, which "may be hazardous to our health."

(Anna Sanders)

Tags: Shelia Anne Feeney , Ivan Pereira , Michael Bloomberg , Thomas Farley , Health Department , CLASH , Audrey Silk , Philip Morris , City Council , ARTICLE , AMNY , HOLD

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